Beauty of A Woman Blogfest: Dye Baby, Dye

Many thanks to August McLaughlin for organizing the Beauty of a Woman Blogfest, inviting the world to participate with tributes and stories.  Check out her blog:

“Don’t worry too much about what other people think about you.  Guess What? They don’t.”  a quote by a friend of my Dad’s a few days before her death from a terminal illness 

One day when I was about 38, I dropped in to a beauty shop for a haircut, hoping as usual to find a miracle worker who would fix my hair, and quite possibly my life.  Don’t get me wrong.  My life was pretty good.  What is it with so many of us, wanting things to be better? Taller, thinner, busty-er, straight hair, curly hair, light skin, dark skin, something, anything.

Back to the day at the beauty parlor:  I walked into this shop and was welcomed by an attractive older Asian woman with platinum blonde hair.  Should have been my first hint, but I wanted a haircut, and so submitted to the smock and the chair.

She sat me down, looked at the top of my head and drew in her breath sharply.

“Ah! Grrey hair!” She said this with such an alarm and pity, I completely forgot I was only there for a trim and a blow dry.

It was true, there were discolored strands up there, and it wasn’t as if I hadn’t considered coloring them.  No one would say my hair is my strongest feature, but in its youth, it was at least a nice color, and I wasn’t too proud to consider trying to hang on to that vestige of an earlier age. Also, I’d noticed that women who let their hair grow gray go through a scary-looking phase, with wild strands kinking from the roots like snakes in the grass. This hair dresser was having none of that.

Three hours later, drenched in sweat and reeking of eau d’ammonia, I walked out a blond.

My husband, who was supposed to pick me up, drove right by.  When I waved and smiled, his jaw dropped.  He tried to be nice, but it was clear he was going to need some adjusting to a new color in the house.  He had a not-sure-how-I’m-supposed-to-respond look that reminded me of the day early in our marriage when I showed up with light-colored contact lenses (I have dark brown eyes).  Just joking dear?

Time passed.  I tried other colors:  reddish brown, then a tannish color because someone told me it helped disguise grow-outs, then something close to my original color, then highlights, and then went back to blonde again.  I visited the reputed best “colorists” in town, and paid a lot of money.

Coloring my hair turned into kind of a production.  It looked fake for a week, then pretty good for another two, then the roots started to show, but the hairdresser didn’t want to see me once a month. Not good for your hair, she said.  Also, I worried about what all the hair dye that washes down the drain does to the water supply.

One day I was chatting with a friend, who stopped the conversation, looked at my hair and said, “Your hair looks really nice.  I like the blonde.  I can see though that you have a little gray.  That looks nice, too.  I bet it would look just as good if you grew it out.  Here,” he said, scribbling down a phone number on a scrap of paper.  “My wife and I go to this woman to get our hair cut.  I think you’d like her.”

Maybe it was just my mood that day, or the way he said it, but I took that piece of paper and did just what he said.

What a relief.

The new hair dresser promised that if I looked washed-out as a Gray (some people do), she’d tell me and color it again.  She never has.  I remember the day when she ceremonially held up the scissors and said, “The last of the blond!” and away it went, under her broom.

I’ve never looked back.

Granted, I look older, but gray hair has brought many gifts:  waves for one.  My hair has gone from straight to a little curly.  Also, I don’t need to blow dry anymore.  This makes camping and swimming in lakes a rediscovered pleasure.  My husband, given his druthers, would probably choose a lake-swimmer over a brunette.  Lucky me.

Don’t get me wrong:  I’m fine with women coloring their hair.  Almost everyone I know colors, and many look better for it.  Also, it’s not as if I don’t have other vanities.

This is just one of the surprises life brought: looking young is fine, but so is looking old, and if you get hung up about one or the other, you can end up spending a lot of time and money you don’t need to.

Also, honest friends are worth more than gold.

Here I am!  Just kidding.

I would love to hear your stories and thoughts about women, beauty, hair and hair coloring.  How much does what we look like matter?  Don’t miss August’s great post kicking off Beauty of a Woman, or the many wonderful stories it links to, from both men and women.


  • A lot of older women from my culture (Hong Kong Chinese) dye their hair purple of all shades while younger women do brownish highlights. I really don’t get the purple part, since it looks even more fake than the brown (at least it’s not impossible for Asian women to have brownish highlights under sunlight). I’ve personally never coloured my hair – not even with hair mascara, which enjoyed a brief stint in popularity when I was 13.


    • Never say dye! I read recently that some of the hottest celebrities are purposely coloring their hair gray. You’re on the leading edge. Seriously, it’s amazing to think about how much effort and time and money go into hair coloring. Is it because we’re pretending Our Time, that inevitable day that comes for all of us, is further away than it is?


  • I grew up with a mom as a hairdresser, so I’ve had every color in the book. I prefer blonde because my skin/eyes are so light. I have a lot of gray but it’s not the pretty silvery kind so I’m not letting those babies so the light of day 🙂


  • My sister, who is five years older, colors her hair, and she looks beautiful. Also, younger than me. Hmmm. Her daughter trained as a hairdresser, and I’m not sure, but I think I’ve caught her eyeing my mop doubtfully.

    You’re right — a light color does suit you. There was a time when I would have ki——, I mean, paid a lot for hair like yours.


  • Great post. Thanks for stopping by mine today. This blogfest is awesome. I’m 43 and color my hair. I’d be completely salt and pepper if I didn’t…and I’m just not ready for that. Thankfully I’ve found a salon that consistently does a great job on making the dye look natural. My hair is now one of my favorite features (a big thank you to flat irons as well). So for now, this works for me, but I know letting it go completely gray is in my future…and I’m okay with that too. 🙂


    • There is a group momentum going with hair coloring in our culture, at least up to age 55. After that, I think going gray gets easier because there is more company. Also, your “I’m not ready” rings true. My internal image of myself is probably about 20 years out of date. Sometimes it’s a surprise to see myself reflected from far away. Who is that??

      Loving your own hair is a wonderful gift, no matter what the source.


  • I haven’t decided yet whether to go all-gray. I’ve been coloring for about 5 years, and I love it. My grandmother, now 91, colored her hair from the time I can remember until about 14 years ago, when she decided to go completely white. It was nice, but it did NOT look like MY Granny! My then-four-year-old was scared of her for the longest! I think the trick is to do it gradually. Right now, mine would just be a mousier shade of brown than I’m used to, so I’ll keep up with the color.

    Thanks for the post! I’m loving the blogfest!


    • That’s funny! My daughter was five when I decided to give up the dye. “Mom,” she said mournfully one night when I was tucking her in, “I don’t want you to have gray hair!” That might have been the hardest moment during the transition. She’s 20 now, and can’t remember me any other way. Gradual is key. There are lots of ways to let a streak or two show, to blend it in and keep it attractive. No need to go through the snake in the grass phase. Thanks for the comment.


  • Julia, what a beautiful story of discovery. My mom always had a bottle of hair dye in the bathroom cabinet, so when it was time to hide they grey in my hair, I didn’t think anything of it. Years later, I discovered that she’d bought that bottle of dye and never used it. 🙂 Now I look at my own coloured hair and wonder when I will drum up the courage to go natural. I will think of your story when I finally do.

    Thanks for the great post!


    • When you do, you will be amazed at who supports you. A lot more people than you think prefer a natural gray, especially on someone who is healthy and fit (and judging from your profile photo, you are). What a nice combination, a vital, active (OK, old) person!

      There are some of course, who don’t. One guy asked me flat when I was going to start coloring my hair. Once you step firmly over to the gray side, however, comments like that are easy to parry.

      Most of us take hair way too seriously. Hope you are having fun, love your hairdresser, and change your color twice a year.


    • Sheila, There is one sentence in my earlier reply about healthy, active vital old people. Be assured, I was not referring to you! Just the generic type. Thanks for your reply.


  • What a great story, Julia. I confess I have tried to grow mine out several times, but when the roots get about two inches long I fall into a depression, then freak out and go running back for a color. I guess I’m just not ready yet… well I’m not… stop laughing… I’m not ready :))


    • Not laughing. In her book Garlic and Sapphires, N.Y.T. food critic Ruth Reichl dressed up as a bag lady so she could go undetected at restaurants, and found herself ignored, treated rudely, even acting like a different, sadder person. What we look like matters. That said, you are a lovely woman with what looks like a thick mane, and you can do whatever you like. Lucky! Best wishes.


  • Early in our marriage I rolled over in bed one Saturday morning and my wife had been replaced by two pillows shoved up against me. Darn it. There was a note on the bedroom door. “went to get my hair done”. I liked her long hair so I wondered what “done” meant. She came home a while latter and her hair was short. “Do you like my short hair?” I hesitated so she knew the answer. I decided that since I was busted any way i might as well be frank. I like your hair long I think but your hair is very nice. Life continued.

    A couple months latter the same thing happened again. “Do you like my hair cut?” Uhm..I like your hair better long.

    A couple of months later we had the third conversation about it. Finally a year into the strange hair ritual I gave up and just told her. “You already asked me, I already told you, and you are going to get it cut short any way so what the heck does it mater what I think?” She just smiled at me like a special Ed. teacher smiles at the slowest student when they learn to count to ten. …

    Yes I love your hair that way baby. It looks great. That was our last hair conversation like three decades ago. In exchange for that she tolerated a three year period of me having very long hair and I have thick hair so it was a nuisance but I had to keep it long for a while. She never complained.


    • I love this story. Sounds like you get the husband’s side pretty well. What’s a guy to do? Life as a husband can be very tricky. Of course as you point out, so can life as a wife. Sounds like you are a quick study, and that your wife has a good idea of how lucky she is. Best wishes and thanks for the reply.


  • I began to gray at 16…I plucked them out at first but it soon became apparent that plucking was not going to be a good long term strategy. I colored for many years, then when I was in a stressful traveling job and found myself coloring my hair in a hotel room, I just quit. I have stunning white hair (think Newt Gingrich white – without the bullshit). It took a while to adjust, but I love it, and I get many, many compliments. Sure, everyone thinks I’m the older sister when I am out with my raven-haired older sis, but that’s okay.


    • I’m an “older” younger sister too (my sister 5 is years my senior). The good news? She’s catching up.

      Kudos to you for your courage. Sounds like you know how to savor the freedom you’ve gained.


  • I love this post! I dye my hair, not because of my (few) greys, but simply because I feel more ‘me’ as a redhead than as a natural brunette. There’s probably something deep to say about my psyche there, but damned if I know what…


  • If you figure out what it is, let me know. Sounds intriguing. The wonderful and strange thing about coloring or not coloring hair is that it really does change how you feel and how others perceive you. It’s an experiment with self-image and relationships. By the way, you do look pretty good as a redhead.

    Thanks for the reply.


  • In the end, it really is all about finding what makes you feel beautiful. Two of my closest friends took different routes. One dyes her hair because the grey made her look washed out (and she started to go grey in her early 20s). The other doesn’t dye her hair and has the most gorgeous silver streak like Rogue in X-Men. She could get rid of it, but it looks so lovely.


    • Yes! Also about what makes you feel true to yourself. Karen D.L above writes that she feels like herself only when she’s a redhead. Whatever it takes to satisfy that hungry something inside. If you don’t feel right, it’s hard to do much of anything.


  • So timely for me! I have dark brown hair and the threads of silvery gray are starting to multiply. Probably because my oldest child is about to turn 16 and get his driver’s license. Most people don’t see or notice the gray …. YET. But, even though I love my hair dark, I’m considering going lighter to sort of disguise the silvery threads for just a while longer. We’ll see! 🙂 Loved your story!!


    • A tricky time! Fortunately there are endless options for making the transition graceful. I’m kind of a no-fuss person, and as I said, worry about things like hair dye going through the water supply, so walking away was a relief. And surprise! I feel great. My husband still loves me. My friends don’t seem to care — some have even joined me.

      Just remember, you can’t go wrong. You aren’t your hair, and color is temporary. Go lighter! See how it feels. Have fun.


  • What a journey! It’s wonderful to hear about how you tried different colors until you found your way to the one that suited you. 🙂


  • Oh yeah, a full spectrum Clairol color wheel. My only regret was that I didn’t have more fun along the way. Life is much too short to fret about hair. Thanks for the visit.


  • I loved your post and respect your decision. I’ve tried letting my hair grow out and I can’t say the experiments were successful. My skin is so pasty white that with gray hair I resemble nothing more than Casper the Ghost’s older female cousin. So I’m still cheating and chemically enhancing nature.


  • Cheating? No way. You just need to feel good enough about yourself that you don’t think about yourself all the time. Which you don’t (I’ve checked out your blog). If that means a little hair dye, amen.


  • Hi Julia!

    Can I just say how proud I am of you! You put yourself out there and look what happened! Bravo girl! What a wonderful post.

    Gray hair. Oh boy. I started turning gray when my first child was born. I tease him all the time that it was his fault. lol But I am very fair skinned and love my life as a blonde. Although I must say that my colorist uses organic hair color! Better for the environment and me. 🙂

    You look fantastic gray and the color of your gray is beautiful and thick.

    Keep these awesome posts coming Julia! And stay in touch! 🙂


  • Thanks Karen. This was fun.

    I considered researching organic hair color to find out if it is better for the water supply and for skin than regular hair color, but am afraid of what I might find out. I hate to be purposefully innocent of the facts, but hate being a dirge, too.

    Probably better for you to research organic color, and me to research the One Day Acuvue contact lenses I wear. If we’re so inclined.

    Thanks again for your support, and your blog, which is a lot of fun. Hey, I finally decided to put the versatile blogger award on my blog, and realized I have no idea how to do it. Sigh.


  • I’m not sure how I missed your blog – my apologies. what a wonderful post. I got my first gray hair at 16 and it was funny. I started playing with color around 17. I’ve been black, black black and platinum blonde and everything in between. but only ‘possible’ hair colors – not the gorgeous blues and greens and purples that are so common today (altho I’m thinking about it.). I’m growing my hair long again. (i do this cyclically as well).

    for me, hair is just another part of the fun of my body. I can play with it, color it, wear it up or down or super short. doesn’t matter, the only constant comment i hear is “Hey, I didn’t recognize you – you’ve changed your hair.)…yep. stay tuned, it will be a different color next month.

    great post. thanks


  • Thanks Louise. For an artist, hair is a canvas. You could line up “yep, still me” mug shots of yourself with evolving colors on your blog. I love the lightness of your approach.


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